Latin America News Round-up
July 13, 2012
Three Peasants Slain in Honduras Land Dispute
Editor's Note: There will be no LANR on Monday July 16.
For the latest news and developments on Haiti, please see CEPR's blog, "Haiti: Relief and Reconstruction Watch."
For archives of past Round-ups, please click here.
Brazil and Southern Cone
Argentina's biggest labor group splits. Reuters
Chilean hate-crime legislation signed into law. AP
Paraguay counts cost of Lugo’s sacking. Financial Times
Brazil calls OAS to consider Mercosur and Unasur statements on Paraguay. Mercopress
Northern Andean Region
Venezuela Election Board Calls for Peaceful Presidential Campaigns. Dow Jones
Chavez foe to address military ahead of election. AP
In war-torn Colombia, an indigenous revolt hopes to bring peace. Miami Herald
Western Andean Region
Ecuador's gambit: Study abroad, apply at home. AP
Ecuador Plans Changes to Mine Windfall Tax on Kinross Talks. Bloomberg
Bolivia says may compensate South American Silver. Reuters
Jindal Steel, Bolivian government resume talks to revise deadlines for project milestones. Economic Times
Bolivia: TIPNIS Marchers Return Home, Pledge to Resist Government Consulta. NACLA
Peru tries to end discrimination against African-Peruvians. The Guardian
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean
Mexico presidential runner-up files lawsuit against Peña Nieto. The Guardian
Mexico's Election: A Vote for Peace, a Plan for War. The Nation
Mexican Congress Demands President Enact Victims’ Rights Law. EFE
Botched DEA Raid Exposes How Militarization Terrorizes Communities Around the World. AlterNet
Three Peasants Slain in Honduras Land Dispute. EFE
Nicaraguan court sentences Colombian in spying case. Reuters
In pursuit of happiness, Costa Rica finds a niche. McClatchy
Brazil and Southern Cone [contents]
Argentina's biggest labor group splits
Helen Popper. Reuters. July 12, 2012
BUENOS AIRES, July 12 (Reuters) - Argentina's biggest labor federation split in two on Thursday, as allies of Secretary-General Hugo Moyano re-elected him in a vote rejected by rival union bosses and President Cristina Fernandez.
The splintering of the CGT federation over political differences might allow Fernandez to sideline the gruff trucker, who has gone from being a close ally of the center-left leader to one of her most dangerous foes in less than two years.
But the fracture in the umbrella group, which reflects broader power struggles within the dominant Peronist party, risks deepening labor unrest in Latin America's third-biggest economy as double-digit inflation stokes pay claims.
Moyano's election was boycotted by dissident union leaders aligned with Fernandez, who say they plan to hold their own balloting in October. The former truck driver went ahead with the vote even though the government said it would be invalid.
"This issue of inflation is getting unsustainable," Moyano told supporters gathered in a Buenos Aires stadium after his unanimous election, demanding the government hike the minimum threshold for income tax as wages rise. "The workers can't support this unjust tax any longer."
"Let's start thinking in political terms ... we can't vote for someone who looks down on the workers," he said in reference to next year's mid-term legislative election.
Ties between the combative Fernandez and Moyano turned sour following the death of Fernandez's husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner, in late 2010.
Fernandez rejected Moyano's demands for a union figure to join the upper echelons of her administration and she has accused him of making unreasonable demands that risk jeopardizing the economy since her re-election in October.
Moyano controls the truckers union that groups 200,000 workers and has the power to gridlock everything from garbage collection to grains transport. He also has the backing of numerous unions linked to sensitive economic sectors such as shipping, air travel and the oil industry.
He flexed his muscles last month with a two-day fuel truckers strike that caused shortages at service stations and drew a furious response from the government.
A week later, thousands of truckers held a rally in front of the presidential palace. Moyano called Fernandez arrogant and demanded tax cuts in the biggest protests against her rule since a 2008 uprising by farmers.
Moyano's trade union rivals will hold their own election in October and are set to elect metal workers' union boss Antonio Calo, who is aligned with Fernandez.
Calo criticized Moyano for seeking a third four-year term at the helm of the federation after the Labor Ministry declared the election process invalid.
"The division of the labor movement, of the CGT, isn't good for the workers," he told local radio.
By ostracizing Moyano and installing pro-government figures, Fernandez may reassert control over the unions. But her strategy could backfire if an emboldened Moyano ratchets up the pressure.
"Moyano's going to try to position himself as an opposition figure. His firepower is extensive but it's limited to the truckers. The rest of the unions are very small," said trade union analyst Alejandro di Biasi.
He said Calo's CGT would have more unions and more members than Moyano, uniting groups representing taxi drivers, construction workers, bank clerks and electricians.
Moyano - sometimes compared to the U.S. union leader Jimmy Hoffa - is unpopular with middle-class Argentines, though recent opinion polls show his image has improved as his conflict with Fernandez has intensified.
"Even weakened, as leader of the truckers, Moyano will remain powerful," Argentine political and economic analyst Federico Thomsen wrote in a report this week.
"The worsening economy may play in his favor, by allowing him to channel people's discontent, but it is unlikely he will ever have much voter support." (Additional reporting by Guido Nejamkis; Editing by David Brunnstrom)
Chilean hate-crime legislation signed into law
LUIS ANDRES HENAO. AP. July 12, 2012
SANTIAGO, Chile -- Chile's president signed an anti-discrimination law Thursday following the killing of a gay man beaten by attackers who carved swastikas into his body.
The law was approved in May after being stuck in Congress for seven years. President Sebastian Pinera had urged lawmakers to speed its approval after the slaying of Daniel Zamudio in March set off a national debate about hate crimes in Chile.
Zamudio was found beaten and mutilated in a city park, with swastikas carved into his body. The U.N. human rights office had urged Chile to pass legislation against hate crimes and discrimination after the killing. Many people in Chile refer to the new measure, which enables people to file anti-discrimination lawsuits and adds hate-crime sentences for violent crimes, as the Zamudio law.
"Without a doubt, Daniel's death was painful but it was not in vain," Pinera said at a press conference joined by Zamudio's parents.
"His passing not only unified wills to finally approve this anti-discrimination law but it also helped us examine our conscience and ask ourselves: have we ever discriminated someone? ... After his death we'll think twice, thrice or four times before we fall prey to that behavior."
Four suspects, some with criminal records for attacks on homosexuals, have been jailed in Zamudio's killing. Prosecutors are seeking murder charges.
Chile remains among the most socially conservative countries in Latin America. It legalized divorce in 2004, becoming one of the last nations in the world to grant married couples that right.
Some Protestant churches had opposed the anti-discrimination law, saying it could be a first step toward gay marriage, which Chile forbids and which is not explicitly included in the measure.
The Roman Catholic Church, which retains a strong influence over Chilean society, also expressed some concerns about the law, but gay and human rights activists hailed the measure as a step toward equality.
"This law is a giant leap toward creating tools that can prevent and punish discrimination," Gay Liberation and Integration Movement President Rolando Jimenez told the Associated Press. "There's still a lot to be done and we need the institutions to enforce it."
Lawmakers are also preparing to debate a civil union law proposed by Pinera that would grant inheritance and other rights to same-sex couples.
Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao reported from Santiago, Chile. Federico Quilodran contributed to this report.
Luis Andres Henao is on Twitter: http//twitter.com/luisandres Henao
Paraguay counts cost of Lugo’s sacking
Jude Webber and Joe Leahy. Financial Times. July 12, 2012
When the US embassy in Asunción, Paraguay, was preparing to hold its annual Fourth of July celebrations this year it had a delicate situation on its hands – which president to invite.
In what some regional leaders are calling a new style of South American coup, the incumbent president Fernando Lugo was removed in a lightning, two-hour impeachment debate and replaced by his former deputy, Federico Franco, on June 22.
Since the original invitations were sent before Mr Lugo’s removal, his replacement, Mr Franco, still had “vice-president” on his. A diplomatic incident was avoided since, in the end, neither went.
But Mr Lugo’s impeachment has had far wider reaching implications than a mere ruffling of diplomatic feathers. It has inadvertently led to a rapid reshuffling of regional relations to bring Brazil and Argentina closer to Venezuela in a move that will be closely watched by outside powers.
“This is Venezuela muscling in,” Mr Franco told the Financial Times in an interview at the leafy official presidential residence in Asunción.
In a region with painful memories of military coups, Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay – ironically the Triple Alliance that crushed Paraguay in a brutal 19th-century war – dished out diplomatic isolation as punishment to a country they said had flouted due process for its elected leader.
They speedily suspended Paraguay from the Mercosur trade bloc, though stopped short of sanctions. Then, in a meeting days after the impeachment, they hustled Venezuela into Mercosur as a member, something Paraguay’s Congress had steadfastly opposed in protest against president Hugo Chávez’s record on human rights and democracy, Mr Franco says.
“The price of Mercosur’s punishment [of Paraguay] was the entry of Venezuela,” Mr Franco said. He reiterated Paraguay’s assertions that Venezuela had tried to persuade military chiefs before the vote to intervene to prop up Mr Lugo – a serious claim in a country ruled by military strongman Alfredo Stroessner for 35 years.
Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a Washington-based think-tank, said Mercosur membership gives Venezuela a chance to show Mr Chávez as a regional player, while Argentina cements ties with an ideological friend and gets possible energy and economic benefits. Brazil could also boost agriculture and other exports.
Mr Franco has withdrawn Paraguay’s ambassador to Caracas in protest and wants to pursue legal action against Venezuela’s membership, which is due to be ratified on July 31.
Chris Garman, an analyst with Eurasia Group, said: “Paraguay was steamrolled and they have very few means for recourse.” He added that trade between Brazil, which is seeking new markets for its struggling manufacturing sector, and Venezuela had grown dramatically in the past five years.
But as Mr Franco embarks on his 14-month term in diplomatic limbo – elections are due in April; he cannot stand and will hand over to the winner in August 2013 – he already has his eye on a potentially lucrative new trading partner: China.
“We should have commercial representation in Hong Kong,” Mr Franco said. “If we did that, we would open a huge market.”
Paraguay, the world’s fourth-biggest exporter of soya, is the only country in South America with diplomatic relations with Taiwan, not Beijing, and there is no sign of this changing any time soon.
Yet despite this, China is already the second-biggest source of Paraguay’s imports, after Brazil. Paraguay also boasts abundant land, a climate that permits two harvests a year and cheap energy from the Itaipú and Yacyretá hydroelectric dams that are jointly owned with Brazil and Argentina respectively.
Moreover, a $4bn smelter planned by Rio Tinto Alcan – which Mr Franco hopes will be in operation in three to four years – will turn Paraguay into an aluminium exporter.
Meanwhile, he has his work cut out steering the country to elections that, polls suggest, could return the Colorado party that ruled Paraguay for 61 corruption-drenched years to office – within months of Mexico re-electing the PRI party that held sway for seven decades.
Mr Franco denied any kind of coup and added: “I didn’t seek this. To be president at 49, for a year and a bit, with no possibility of re-election and this international image – you can keep it.
“I’m castrated, politically speaking.”
The former cardiologist, who says “I cure, I don’t operate”, sees his job as “sowing a lot” for others to reap and his goal is to “have the house in order and the economy growing” when he hands over the presidential sash.
He acknowledged that his Liberal party, the arch rivals of the Colorados and former fractious coalition partners with Mr Lugo, could benefit electorally if he does well “and, I hope, even win”. But he ruled out using state cash to fund its campaign.
Pro-Lugo demonstrations in Asunción, meanwhile, appeared to have fizzled out. As for the Mercosur suspension until next year’s elections, Mr Franco sees its impact as small. “You miss the cocktails, the whiskies and the receptions, but that’s about it,” he smiled.
Brazil calls OAS to consider Mercosur and Unasur statements on Paraguay
Mercopress. July 13, 2012
Brazil considers “important” that the Organization of American States, OAS, takes into consideration the decisions from Mercosur and Unasur relative to the suspension of Paraguay from the two regional groupings.
“We expect OAS members to take into consideration the statements from Mercosur and Unasur, which are democratic countries and committed to promoting democracy” said Brazilian Foreign minister Antonio Patriota on receiving his peer from the Caribbean island of Santa Lucia, Alva Baptiste.
Patriota said OAS was still deliberating about the possible suspension of Paraguay because of the removal from office, following impeachment, of President Fernando Lugo last June 22. The two houses of Paraguay’s congress overwhelmingly voted to have Lugo removed and succeeded by Vice president Federico Franco.
The Brazilian official said he had been in contact with US State Secretary Hillary Clinton over the issue, who stated her deep concern about the “absence of an ample right to defence” for former president Lugo during the impeachment process.
On Wednesday Washington opposed the idea of suspending Paraguay from the OAS and supported a proposal from Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza following his in-situ report of events which led to the political and institutional changes.
“There does not seem to be a reason to suspend Paraguay from OAS”, said Assistant Secretary of State for Latinamerican affairs Roberta Jacobson, during a press conference.
Both Unasur and Mercosur have suspended Paraguay until next year’s election scheduled for April 2013. Mercosur not only suspended the landlocked country but also took advantage and incorporated Venezuela as full member of the group, a request pending since 2006 and only blocked by the Paraguayan Senate, despite the fact all decisions must be taken by consensus from the four full members Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.
The new Paraguayan authorities have also presented a demand before the Mercosur Standing Tribunal for the reestablishment of its full rights in the block and objecting the incorporation of Venezuela.
Northern Andean Region [contents]
Venezuela Election Board Calls for Peaceful Presidential Campaigns
Ezequiel Minaya. Dow Jones. July 12, 2012
CARACAS--Venezuelan election officials said Thursday they were drafting an agreement to be signed by presidential candidates that aims to maintain peace and fairness during a campaign season where mudslinging has become common and amid rising concerns about violence.
Supporters of the two major hopefuls, President Hugo Chavez and opposition leader Henrique Capriles, have accused the opposing camp of stirring unrest and violating election law.
The campaign of Mr. Capriles, a 40-year-old former governor, has complained that Mr. Chavez has allegedly used government resources to illegally tilt the playing field. Those backing the incumbent have accused the opposition of attacking state journalists and have warned of a supposed plot to destabilize the country should the 57-year-old Mr. Chavez win the Oct. 7 vote.
On Thursday, the head of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, invited candidates to a gathering to sign the agreement. The three-point pact calls on them to respect the vote results, comply with election rules and discourage violence. The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, though it was not immediately clear if the seven candidates on the presidential ballot would attend or send representatives.
"Once again, unanimously, the National Electoral Council...categorically rejects the acts of violence that would disrupt the events of the electoral campaign," Ms. Lucena said.
Among the latest incidents, Mr. Capriles accused the government of using police to block a campaign march last week through La Vega, a Caracas neighborhood viewed as a ruling-party stronghold.
Venezuelan Information Minister Andres Izarra responded to the charge by congratulating law enforcement officers in a Twitter message for "preventing further opposition violence on La Vega."
The controversy comes in the wake of news reports on state media in recent months about physical altercations involving state journalists at opposition rallies. And in March, gunfire scattered supporters of Mr. Capriles at a rally and injured the son of an opposition congressman. Both sides deny intimidating the other.
Ms. Lucena Thursday added that election officials will meet representatives of the two campaigns and government officials to mediate any conflicts.
Vicente Diaz, viewed as the sole opposition voice on the five-member election board, followed Ms. Lucena's comments with a dissenting opinion on the proposed agreement. "It's an incomplete accord, I do not accompany my colleagues," he said. Mr. Diaz said that government authorities should also be called on to uphold electoral norms.
Earlier this week, Ms. Lucena unveiled a review of the first days of campaigning since the race officially started July 1, which concluded that commercials in support of the two main candidates were roughly evenly split in number. She did add, however, that the privately-owned Globovision network and the government's Venezolana de Television channel showed signs of favoring Mr. Capriles and Mr. Chavez, respectively.
Mr. Chavez has been accused in the past of using government entities as arms of his personal campaigns. He has repeatedly denied the complaints. In recent years, the election board has also rejected several calls for investigations into Mr. Chavez's alleged use of public funds to finance partisan political efforts.
Mr. Chavez is seeking a third six-year term despite battling an undisclosed type of cancer for much of the past 12 months. The former army officer has said he has recovered from the illness. Local opinion polls tracking the election vary widely, with many showing Mr. Chavez as a clear frontrunner while others have Mr. Capriles tied with the president.
Write to Ezequiel Minaya at firstname.lastname@example.org
Chavez foe addresses military ahead of election
FABIOLA SANCHEZ. AP. July 13, 2012
CARACAS, Venezuela—Opposition presidential candidate Henrique Capriles urged Venezuela's armed forces to stay out of politics in a carefully crafted plea Thursday to an institution that has long been molded by President Hugo Chavez.
During 13 years in office, Chavez has endeavored to place his political stamp on the military command, promoting trusted officers and also giving former barracks comrades key political posts.
On Sunday, Chavez used an appearance at a military graduation ceremony to accuse Capriles of seeking to foment violence by trying to made inroads in poor neighborhoods, which have long been bastions of support for the leftist president.
The Capriles camp accused Chavez, a former paratrooper, of seeking to politicize the armed forces.
"The current government wants to confuse political rights with party activities, showing disrespect for soldiers and their families," Capriles said in a speech broadcast by private television channels Thursday night. "The cult of personality they try to establish in our armed forces makes it lose its bearing, that's not the mission of a commander in chief."
Chavez, who led bloody but failed 1992 coup attempt, insisted during a news conference on Monday that soldiers "will be the first ones to support the will of the majority, whatever it is."
During the election, soldiers are responsible for keeping order and safeguarding voting equipment and voter rolls. And because the election
is expected to be hotly contested, there are fears that tensions could boil over into violence.
"Never before in Venezuela's history is their role going to be so decisive in maintaining calm inside polling stations," Rocio San Miguel, leader of the independent watchdog Control Ciudadano, said of the nation's troops.
Opposition concerns of potential armed forces meddling in politics were spurred by a close Chavez confidant, Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, who told a newspaper in 2010 that the military would refuse to recognize an election victory by the opposition.
"A hypothetical opposition government starting in 2012 would be selling out the country; the armed forces are not going to accept that," Rangel was quoted as saying at the time by the newspaper Ultimas Noticias.
Chavez defended Rangel, who was then a member of the joint chiefs of staff, and later appointed him defense minister.
Several senior military officials, including Rangel, have been accused by the United States of assisting drug traffickers and supplying arms to Colombia's leftist rebels, who also have taken refuge in Venezuelan territory.
Chavez rejects the accusations.
Capriles said that if he wins election, he will prevent Colombian rebels from seeking refuge in Venezuela.
He also made an indirect reference to accusations that some members of the military have been corrupted by criminal organizations.
"We cannot permit drug-trafficking, guerrillas and paramilitary groups to infiltrate and use our institutions," he said.
Venezuela is the departure point for aerial cocaine smuggling to the United States, according to U.S. officials.
In war-torn Colombia, an indigenous revolt hopes to bring peace
Jim Wyss. Miami Herald. July 13, 2012
Toribio, COLOMBIA -- This dusty agricultural village in southwestern Colombia has been attacked more than 500 times in 10 years as guerrillas and the army have fought for control of the town. But when a fresh spate of violence broke out last week, the residents revolted. Armed with little more than ceremonial staffs and a few machetes, hundreds of Nasa Indians have been facing down heavily armed guerillas, destroying fortified police positions and pushing the army out of their mountaintop barracks.
Their hope is that if they rid the region of the two armed factions — the state and guerrillas — they can bring peace to this area for the first time in more than 40 years.
Even as the government has packed the city with troops and turned streets into bunkers, the civilian body count has climbed, said Luís Alberto Mensa, the regional head of the unarmed Indigenous Guard. With 1,500 active members in northern Cauca province and more than 150 in Toribio, Mensa said his force can control the area better than the government troops.
“The military can’t protect us and the guerrillas don’t represent us,” Mensa said, as he cradled the tasseled staff that identifies the volunteer guard. “All of them need to leave this area and let us live in peace.”
The push comes as Toribio and surrounding villages in northern Cauca have been beset by more than a week of fighting that has left at least two dead, 11 civilians injured and more than 120 homes damaged. The frustration spilled over on Sunday, when a guerrilla mortar landed on Toribio´s community clinic, wounding four medics.
President Juan Manuel Santos called an emergency cabinet meeting in Toribio on Wednesday to try to calm the community. But the visit only underscored the problem. Despite thousands of additional troops in the area to provide presidential security, helicopter gunships took fire from the hills and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, blocked roads into town.
At one guerrilla checkpoint, less than five minutes from the city center, a group of burly men stopped passing vehicles.
“This is FARC territory,” said a heavily-armed man as he stuck his head into the car. “Tell Santos that the 6th Front [a guerrilla unit] sends him greetings.”
On Thursday, the International Red Cross recovered the bodies of two pilots who went down Wednesday in a Super Tucano fighter jet near the village of Jambaló. The government is investigating the incident and has said it was likely mechanical failure, but eyewitnesses said the aircraft had been taking guerrilla fire all day.
Even before Santos had finished the emergency meeting, the community had decided to take matters into its own hands. One group confronted the FARC at the roadblocks and another walked more than two hours to a barren mountaintop army battalion that overlooks Toribio.
After a short standoff with troops, about 200 people swarmed the base and began toppling sandbagged bunkers and filling in foxholes. As troops looked on helplessly, soldiers begged for more time to pack their belongings before their barracks were torn down.
“Please don’t do that,” one officer shouted. “My men need a place to sleep.”
It had taken Angelina Musique, a 66-year-old grandmother, two hours to reach the battalion from the community of San Francisco.
“I’m here to get rid of the army,” she said, as she used a stick to push dirt into a foxhole. “We don’t want them here anymore because they make it more dangerous.”
An officer, who was not authorized to talk to the media, said his men couldn’t use force against the community but that they were not going to abandon the post. It was unclear how long the standoff will continue.
“We’re supposed to be here to protect them,” he said, as the crowd waved a green and red indigenous flag from the top of a barricade. “What can we do?”
At the FARC roadblocks, villagers shouted the guerrillas back into the jungle and seized five homemade mortars, called tatucos, similar to the one that injured the medics.
But even the most die-hard community organizers doubt the indigenous uprising will change the local dynamic.
Santos is being hammered by the opposition, who accuse him of being soft on guerrillas amid the perception that violence is on the rise in Colombia. While he pledged to plow more resources into Toribio, Santos said he would not be withdrawing troops.
“We’re also tired of the war,” he said, after crowds had jeered him around the plaza. “But we cannot demilitarize a single centimeter of our national territory.”
And indigenous leaders said that several FARC units, including the Jacobo Arenas and Gabriel Salvis mobile columns, have been congregating in the area.
The FARC have been engaging in hit-and-run operations all year throughout northern Cauca and Valle del Cauca, said Karina Terán, spokeswoman for Tierra de Paz, an organization that works with German-based Diakonie to provide emergency services to beleaguered areas.
“The militarization of this region has been one of the factors generating violence, because the guerrillas have been responding,” she said. “And it’s the civilians who are caught in the middle.”
A year ago this month, a bomb-laden bus blew up near Toribio’s police station, killing three and wounding more than 120.
The town of Jambaló, about an hour from Toribio, has been incommunicado since the FARC toppled the mobile phone tower July 3. On Wednesday, the police inspector was shot outside the community clinic, presumably by a guerrilla sniper, just days after a mortar strike injured two children.
Near the town square, Mariano was doing brisk business Thursday at his convenience store as troops stood outside. He said Jambaló is so inured to violence that a bombing or a few gunshots aren’t enough to close business.
While he recognized that the military presence had made the town a target, he feared what would happen if they withdrew.
“The indigenous guard is about as powerful as you can get without having a weapon,” said Mariano, who feared giving his last name. “But you can’t go face the guerrillas with just a stick. Getting rid of the army right now would be madness.”
But for many in these communities, the government has already had its chance.
“The guerrillas will never seize power through force and the government will never get rid of all the guerrillas,” said Feliciano Valencia, an indigenous activist, who recounted a half-century of conflict in the region. “Let’s see how we can create our own peace.”
Western Andean Region [contents]
Ecuador's gambit: Study abroad, apply at home
AP. July 13, 2012
QUITO, Ecuador — Galo Guarderas is starting off on five years of study in Spain to make himself an expert in photovoltaics, a vital field for a world tapping into solar energy.
The price tag for the studies is more than $150,000. But the 47-year-old professor of electrical engineering won't owe a cent for his doctorate.
His country, Ecuador, is footing the bill.
Guarderas is a pioneering participant in a new program that aspires to convert this small South American nation into a global competitor. In exchange for each state-paid year of school, the professionals guarantee to work at least two years back at home.
President Rafael Correa isn't just bent on staunching brain drain, in which talented people flee developing countries for lack of local opportunity. He's determined to reverse it, create a brain gain.
"Without human talent Ecuador won't advance," Correa said in a speech last month. "We lack the minimum critical mass of top-flight professionals needed to spur the country's development."
Ecuador's deputy minister of science and innovation, Hector Rodriguez, said the goal is "a radical transformation" from a country whose exports are 77 percent raw materials, chiefly oil, to one that exports technology.
"The best of the world's science is abroad and we ought to be taking advantage of that," he said.
The scholarships for professionals such as Guarderas will benefit as many as 2,000 Ecuadoreans this year, twice as many as last year and up eightfold from 2010.
The government will also pay as much as $250,000 to fund undergraduate education at the world's 50 top universities for secondary school graduates who pass a qualifying exam. The top qualifiers will get to choose their field of study. Others will have their specializations assigned.
Like the professionals, these scholars must give their country two years for every year of study that the government pays, and return home to work at jobs created for them at government-funded academies.
A third piece of the program imports talent already abroad. It has already recruited 100 mathematicians, physicists, chemists, biologists and other scientists, half of them Ecuadorean nationals and half foreigners.
Each gets a $6,000 monthly paycheck, and the government is reviewing an additional 1,500 applications from Spain, the United States and elsewhere.
"There's nothing happening like this anywhere else in Latin America," said Juan Ponce, president of Ecuador's branch of the Latin American Faculty of Social Science.
International education experts say few programs anywhere address the greatest risk in government-funded study abroad: that scholars will renege on their commitment to return home because they've obtained higher-paying work in the developed world.
Allan Goodman, president of the New York-based nonprofit Institute of International Education, said that such programs often fall short because neither the government nor the local economy can provide satisfying jobs for the returning scholars.
"This seems to me to be different. There's real integration between education and labor in ways that I don't see in a lot of countries," said Goodman, a former Georgetown University School of Foreign Service dean. "It seems to me they read the playbook for best practices to make this work and they've adopted all of them."
In order to ensure that beneficiaries honor the agreement to return, they or relatives must sign contracts promising to repay if a student doesn't come back, or drops out, and putting up collateral such as a home. When students return home, they will be placed in jobs in universities and state institutions, generally teaching and doing research.
Guarderas, for example, said that after he gets his degree in Madrid, he expects to return to the state-run Army Polytechnic, where he taught before departing in February, and to use his new knowledge to expand the use of alternative energy:
"Apart from whatever I'm assigned, I want to develop ... a private initiative to install photovoltaic cells on private homes, which in the long term will mean allowing people to disconnect from the country's power grid."
Goodman said that the "Science Without Frontiers" program that neighboring Brazil announced last year is "the gold standard" in efforts to reverse brain drain. It is granting 100,000 scholarships for university study abroad, three-quarters of which will be paid by the state, the rest by the private sector.
Yet that program doesn't include job guarantees for beneficiaries. Nor does it specify any commitment to government service upon return.
Brazil's education minister, Aloizio Mercadante, told reporters recently that officials have no problem if some of the beneficiaries stay in the country where they study because that gives the government and scientific institutions contacts in those countries.
Correa, an economist, is himself a product of education abroad. He earned a master's degree from Lovain University in Belgium and a doctorate from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana. Upon returning in 1999 to this nation of 14 million people he became a university professor and later economy minister. The presidency is his first elected office.
Correa is a polemical leader internationally, a leftist widely criticized for strong-arm tactics against a hostile press that he accuses of being a tool of oligarchs. He openly seeks to diminish Washington's influence in Latin America and cultivates such nations as Iran, Russia and China, the latter of which buys most of Ecuador's oil.
Yet Correa also leads Ecuador's most stable government since 1995. He enjoys an approval rating of more than 70 percent thanks to generous social spending, in which education is a priority, and will be up for re-election early next year.
His government's plan for reversing brain drain is not without critics.
Milton Luna, who directs an independent think tank known as the Social Contract for Education, said the initiatives "are making education increasingly more elitist."
"It's a message of lack of faith in Ecuadorean universities," he said, although the government says its initiative won't mean any less money for state universities. It isn't saying how much the new plan will cost.
For the undergraduate study-abroad program, 713 students were selected from 154,000 who took the qualifying exam. If they don't wish to study abroad, the state will pay the full cost of university at home.
Juan Castro, 17, is one of the qualifying students, scoring 961 out of a possible 1,000 on the test. He's about to finish high school.
Castro has forever been fixated on understanding how things work. First he took toys apart, then he started in on household appliances.
"I didn't really care to watch television but I wanted to know how it worked. So I would study it and take it apart, though I wasn't always able to put it back together properly," he says, smiling.
His middle-class family could never afford to send him abroad, but now he's looking at alternatives in the United States, France and Canada.
"I want to be a robotics engineer or theoretical physicist. That's what attracts me a lot. I want to be a researcher. A theoretical physicist involved in research, in creating technology, in creating energy."
"Ecuador needs new sources of energy. I would love to discover some kind of alternative energy source that revolutionizes things."
Such ambitions are exactly what the program's creators seek.
Rodriguez, the science and technology deputy minister, says the object is to cure Ecuador of the "curse of abundance," the idea that oil wealth has encouraged countries to shun their own development while relying on imports financed by easy exports.
"We get almost everything we need with little effort."
Ecuador Plans Changes to Mine Windfall Tax on Kinross Talks
Nathan Gill and Matt Craze. Bloomberg. July 12, 2012
Ecuador is planning changes to the nation’s mining law regulating windfall taxes after contract talks with Canada’s Kinross Gold Corp. (K) stalled, President Rafael Correa said today.
“We have to make it more reasonable,” Correa said in comments broadcast live on state-owned radio station Radio Publica. “We have the most demanding contracts in the world, but we have to be very demanding because the opportunities are enormous.”
Ecuador’s windfall tax, which gives the state 70 percent of mineral profits above a pre-negotiated base price, is the main reason Kinross is hesitating to sign a mining contract with the government to develop its Fruta del Norte gold and silver deposit in southern Ecuador, Santiago Yepez, head of Ecuador’s Mining Chamber, said in an interview today.
Fruta del Norte, discovered in 2006, is one of the world’s biggest gold discoveries, containing 6.7 million ounces of proven and probable gold reserves and 9 million ounces of proven and probable silver reserves, according to Kinross’s website.
To contact the reporter on this story: Nathan Gill in Quito at email@example.com; Matt Craze in Santiago at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Bolivia says may compensate South American Silver
Reuters. July 12, 2012
(Reuters) - Bolivia is willing to compensate South American Silver Corp for revoking its concession on the Malku Khota project, but it will be far less than the $16 million the company says it has invested, the country's vice president said on Thursday.
Bolivian President Evo Morales said this week that he signed a deal with protesters opposed to the project stipulating that the government take back all the concessions granted to South American Silver's local subsidiary.
The Canadian company's shares sank on Wednesday after the announcement, and chief executive Greg Johnson said the company would seek recourse using any legal and diplomatic means available.
Violent protests over the Malku Khota mining property prompted Morales' decision. The leftist leader took similar action last month after clashes broke out at a project operated by commodities giant Glencore.
Malku Khota is a silver-indium-gallium deposit. The exploration-stage project was expected to produce some 13.2 million ounces of silver a year, according to a preliminary economic assessment.
"The state is predisposed to repay the costs of the exploration's advances up to today, once they are verified," Vice President Alvaro Garcia told a news conference.
"Our calculations indicate $2 million or $3 million," Garcia added.
South American Silver says it has invested some $16 million in the project since 2007.
After sinking nearly 25 percent on Wednesday, its shares closed up 31 percent at 48.5 Canadian cents on Thursday. The stock was still down more than 50 percent since Friday's market close.
Violence flared at Malku Khota last week as authorities negotiated with peasant farmers on the release of five Bolivian employee hostages. One man was killed and at least a dozen were injured.
Mining has played a key role in Bolivia's economy since the colonial era. The Andean nation mainly produces tin and silver, but is also home to the world's largest undeveloped lithium and potassium resources.
The government is working on a sweeping reform of mining legislation aimed at bolstering the state's role in the industry and giving it a bigger slice of the sector's profits.
Since taking office in 2006, Morales has nationalized the natural gas industry as well as the telecommunications and electricity sectors, arguing Bolivia's poor should benefit more from the country's rich natural resources. (Reporting by Carlos Quiroga; Writing by Hilary Burke; editing by Jim Marshall)
Jindal Steel, Bolivian government resume talks to revise deadlines for project milestones
Economic Times. July 12, 2012
NEW DELHI: Talks between Naveen Jindal's Jindal Steel Bolivia and the Bolivian government continued on Wednesday, with the latter offering to revise deadlines for project milestones.
The $ 2.1 billion mining and steel project, the largest foreign investment into the country, has been threatened by a fallout between the two parties over commitments.
Jindal won rights to the El Mutun iron ore mines in 2007. It was to develop the mines and build a downstream steel plant, on guaranteed energy supplies from the state.
Bolivia's state gas company Yacimientos PetrolAferos Fiscales Bolivianos (YPFB) is now willing to promise only 2.5 million per day as against Jindal's initial requirement of 4.5 mcmd (million cubic metres of gas per day) leading up to
Declining to comment on the specifics, a senior company official who didn't want to be named, only confirmed, ""Discussions were on yesterday (Wednesday) but no resolution has been reached at this stage.""
Jindal Steel Bolivia has asked for the government to accordingly scale down project which includes a pellet and DRI plant as per the actual gas availability. Bolivia with 50mcmd daily gas output is South America's largest producer with export commitments to Brazil and Argentina.
According to reports from La Paz, quoting the country's mines minister, Minister of Mining, Mario Virreira, the Bolivian government is willing to reconsider timeline and commitments, but not scale down original plan for the El Mutun mines.
On June 8, JSB had notified the government of its intention to terminate the contract if energy guarantees on the part of the state could not be met. The notice called for a termination of the contract in thirty days.
Bolivia: TIPNIS Marchers Return Home, Pledge to Resist Government Consulta
Emily Achtenberg. NACLA. July 13, 2012
Following a two-week vigil in La Paz, frustrated lowland indigenous marchers have decided to return to their native communities. Some 1,500 marchers arrived in the nation’s capital on June 27, after a 62-day, 360-mile cross-country trek to protest the Bolivian government’s plan to build a highway through the Isiboro-Sécure Indigenous Territory and National Park (TIPNIS). The marchers are also protesting the government’s proposed consulta, or consultation process on the road, which they regard as illegitimate.
The protesters were welcomed warmly by the citizens of La Paz but treated with a combination of hostility and indifference by the government of indigenous president Evo Morales. The government refused to dialogue directly with the march leadership, which it has consistently sought to discredit, and barred the protesters from the Plaza Murillo where the seat of government is located. They were tear-gassed and sprayed with water cannons on two occasions. Government officials did meet and pact with several dissident march contingents, who agreed to abandon the protest in exchange for promised community benefits.
Plagued from the start by poor logistics and inadequate provisions, the march was further debilitated by La Paz’ harsh winter climate that took a special toll on women and some 300 children who participated in the La Paz mobilization. On July 3, the Morales government signed an agreement with 45 (out of 63) indigenous TIPNIS authorities in support of the consulta, which appeared to thoroughly marginalize the protesters. Then, on July 10, the leadership of CIDOB, the lowlands indigenous federation that sponsored the TIPNIS march—including its president Adolfo Chávez—was replaced at a hastily-organized general assembly by a pro-consulta slate, an act that appeared to seal the fate of the TIPNIS protest.
For Interior Minister Carlos Romero, who described the march as a “failed mobilization from the start,” the marchers’ return provides an opportunity for the government to begin a “real dialogue” with the 63 indigenous TIPNIS communities through the consulta that is scheduled to begin July 29. But TIPNIS leaders have vowed to resist the consulta through a variety of tactics, including barring access by government teams to the rivers that traverse the territory.
“The struggle isn’t over,” says TIPNIS leader Fernando Vargas, “we’re just taking it back to our communities.” A judicial complaint under a provision of Bolivia’s constitution that safeguards environmental and patrimonial rights is also being considered.
The marchers’ opposition to the consulta, a fundamental right of indigenous people (under the Bolivian constitution and international law) to “free, prior, and informed consultation,” is problematic even for many who sympathize with their objectives. Julieta Paredes, an Aymara activist and founder of the feminist organization Mujeres Creando, movingly describes how the TIPNIS marchers have challenged her long-held assumptions about progress, autonomy, property, and land. Still, she writes, “the Ninth March gave me pain and anguish. How can we march against the consulta? The consulta is an instrument for our people, whether it’s before or after; time isn’t linear.”
Originally, the marchers objected to the consulta primarily because it would take place after fundamental decisions affecting the road had already been made. This concern has been substantially tempered by the government’s rescission of Brazilian firm OAS’ construction contract, and the corresponding loss of Brazil’s construction financing. In any case, Bolivia’s Plurinational Constitutional Tribunal has recently upheld the “ex post facto” nature of the consulta, on the grounds that even projects already underway should be subject to challenge and potential reconsideration.
But the Tribunal has conditioned the constitutionality of the consulta on the government's ability to carry out a planning and implementation process in good faith, with the confidence of all parties, to achieve consensus. According to anthropologist Xavier Albó, “we are far from complying with the conditions that would make the consulta previa constitutional.”1117 Morales delivers communications equipment in the TIPNIS. Credit: La Razón.
Rather than demonstrating community consensus, Albó argues, the consulta protocol has only achieved a sign-off by indigenous leaders, some more legitimate than others. According to Fernando Vargas, only 18-20 of the 45 signatories are authentic community representatives.
Of the 63 communities that are required to be consulted, says Albó, 13 are located inside “Polygon 7,” an area of the park dominated by pro-road coca growers which is outside the indigenous territory. While originally settled by lowland indigenous groups who are the intended subjects of the consulta, these communities have relinquished their collective land title, shed their native customs, and do not satisfy the “double category” standard of belonging to both the national park and the indigenous territory, as required by the consulta law.
In Albó’s view, the Morales government’s coincidental distribution of handouts to TIPNIS communities at a time when it is seeking their support for the consulta, its determined campaign to discredit lowland indigenous leaders, and its maneuvers to replace legitimate community authorities constitute egregious acts of bad faith which have exacerbated, rather than ameliorated, the TIPNIS conflict. TIPNIS leaders hold the Morales government directly responsible for creating (and subsequently recognizing) a “parallel CIDOB,” which they claim has the legitimate support of only 5 of 13 regional affiliates.
What lies ahead for the TIPNIS conflict is anyone’s guess. A recent poll in Bolivia's four largest cities shows that 43% favor the consulta, while 38% support the marchers’ demands against both the TIPNIS highway and the consulta. Bolivia’s Ombudsman has called for a postponement of the consulta, to avoid the risk of serious confrontations, comply with the Constitutional Tribunal’s mandate, and establish a process that is both legitimate and legal.
To the extent that the Morales government has "defeated" the TIPNIS marchers, argues columnist Ilya Fortún in a grim assessment, it is only a “pyrrhic victory.”
“Although [the government] may succeed in crushing them [the TIPNIS marchers]," he writes, "these events will be recorded in the collective memory as a despicable episode, a symbol of the deceptiveness, decomposition, and decadence of the Morales regime. What seems today to be a victory over these few contestants will be the stigma that, sooner or later, marks the exhaustion of this government and its exit out the back door.”
Emily Achtenberg is an urban planner and the author of NACLA’s weekly blog Rebel Currents, covering Latin American social movements and progressive governments (nacla.org/blog/rebel-currents).
Peru tries to end discrimination against African-Peruvians
Dan Collyns. The Guardian. July 12, 2012
For many tourists visiting Peru, the hotel doorman is likely to be their first encounter with an African-Peruvian. It is a job usually filled by young black men in Peru. They also often occupy roles as chauffeurs or coffin bearers.
For activist Jorge Ramírez, this is another example of the structural racism in Peruvian society, which means black people have extremely limited job prospects. "The prejudice is that that's all we're good for," said Ramírez, president of the Black Association for the Defence and Promotion of Human Rights (Asonedh).
Now, it is hoped, change is at hand. For the first time, a government body will be set up dedicated solely to policies that favour Peru's African-descended population.
Between 8% and 10% of Peru's population of nearly 30 million claim African heritage, a smaller proportion than in Colombia but greater than in Andean neighbours Ecuador and Bolivia.
Under the umbrella of the vice-ministry of interculturality, which is part of Peru's culture ministry, a tiny team of civil servants are working to reduce the "invisibility" of the descendants of African slaves in the country.
The approach is three-pronged, explains Rocío Muñoz, one of the team's two members: a multi-sectorial development plan, which will include public policies and affirmative action; a nationwide census to provide up-to-date statistics on the African population and its level of health, education and employment; and the establishment of a permanent office – the office for African-descendant policy in Peru.
"Neighbouring countries have made much greater advances than Peru," says Muñoz. Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador and Colombia all recognise their African-descendant populations within their constitutions and have dedicated policies for their development, something Peru has yet to do.
In a 2011 report, Peru's human rights ombudsman, La Defensoría del Pueblo, declared Peru's African-descendant population to be in a situation of "vulnerability, deferment and invisibility", which impacted negatively on their human rights, especially in health and education.
It said that just 2% of those who suffer illnesses attend health clinics or hospitals. Only 2% of African-Peruvian students complete a university education, more than half fail to finish secondary education, and 13.8% do not complete primary education, it said.
Hugo Nopo, co-author of Discrimination in Latin America: An Economic Perspective, a book sponsored by the Inter-American Development Bank, found that in Latin America the average wealth gap between the white elite and indigenous and African-descended people was 38%.
He said: "The inequalities in access to education services later become inequalities in human capital, in access to labour markets, in the ability to generate wealth, and in general the ability to live a full and decent life within society.
"The best policy to provide equal opportunities is education. The education given to people from the earliest years is key for their later development. In that sense, minorities are at a clear disadvantage faced with the majority and public policies have done little to remedy that situation."
Nopo says state-backed equal opportunities programmes in Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, although "well-intentioned", have done "little or nothing" to improve the status of African-descended minorities in those countries.
He added: "In Latin America in general, we have to confront a historic debt. This can't be resolved with short-term remedial policies like anti-discrimination laws or quotas in different aspects of public life. The solution has to be long term, attacking the root of the problem. That's why I'm so convinced that education is the only way."
The statistics, albeit incomplete, show African-Peruvians suffer more health problems, and are poorer and less literate than the national average – in a country where a third of the population live in poverty, measured as living on $1 or less per person per day.
Black Peruvians do not have the same opportunities as others, says Muñoz, an expert on African-Latino issues who believes a "colonial way of thinking continues in what is an apparently democratic society". "Without doubt, there are a series of stereotypes which have confined Afro-descended men and women to certain types of work," she says. "There's a real need to generate opportunities for them. In many cases, they just don't have other employment options."
In November 2009, Peru became the first Latin American nation to apologise to its black population for centuries of abuse, exclusion and discrimination. It also admitted discrimination continues in the present day.
But it was not until Ollanta Humala became president last year with the promise of "social inclusion for all" that the African-Peruvian issue was incorporated into a ministerial agenda.
The appointment of the African-Peruvian singer Susana Baca as culture minister was seen as a good start. She was celebrated as Peru's first black government minister, although her tenure lasted only five months.
But although Humala officially implemented the International Labour Organisation's convention 169 on indigenous and tribal communities, African-Peruvians were left off the agenda until now, says Owan Lay, a researcher at Peru's vice-ministry for interculturality.
On 4 June, African-Peruvian culture day celebrated the birthday of Nicomedes Santa Cruz, a seminal black poet and musician. But activists argue that, although their fellow Peruvians appreciate their contribution to music, culture and sport, they do not recognise their abilities in other spheres.
"People need to understand that we don't just know how to dance or play musical instruments; we can also think and fill important posts," said Ramírez, who is impatient for concrete action to be taken. "For years we've been waiting, and Afro people continue to be humiliated, mistreated and excluded. If the state doesn't take action now, we'll continue to be victims of this structural racism."
Mexico, Central America and Caribbean [contents]
Mexico presidential runner-up files lawsuit against Peña Nieto
Jo Tuckman. The Guardian. July 13, 2012
The runner-up in Mexico's recent presidential election has lodged a legal challenge to invalidate the result, claiming the vote was rigged with a combination of vote-buying, biased media coverage and manipulated opinion polls.
Leftwing candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador came in 3.3m votes behind Enrique Peña Nieto from the Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI), according to the official count from the 1 July vote.
But the former mayor of Mexico City, who lost the 2006 presidential race by a narrower margin, alleged on Thursday night that the campaign was rigged.
"The minority that dominates the country decided a long time ago to impose Enrique Peña Nieto as president of Mexico in order to maintain the corrupt regime that benefits them," said López Obrador immediately before his representatives formally presented their case to the electoral authorities.
"We will not accept the corruption that dominates national life. We fight for the moral rebirth of Mexico."
The PRI president, Pedro Joaquín Coldwell, dismissed the allegations and insisted the result of the 1 July election was legitimate.
"The political choice of millions of voters cannot be invalidated by the refusal to recognise the legal truth and political reality of Mexico," he said. "The only problem with this election was the presence of somebody [López Obrador] who has repeatedly proved himself to be a bad loser."
López Obrador's claims of fraud recall Mexico's last presidential election in 2006 in which he also refused to accept defeat after losing the count by a half a percentage point to Felipe Calderón of the National Action party (PAN).
On that occasion the legal complaint coincided with mass protests by his supporters over the entire five-month transition period between the election and Calderón's inauguration, which took place amid scenes of pandemonium within Congress.
López Obrador has been careful this time around to keep within the same institutional channels he previously denounced as part of a plot to keep him out of power.
But while the leftwinger has so far avoided taking his latest complaints of election fiddling to the streets himself, the widespread evidence of dirty tricks has generated large protest marches associated with a new student movement that erupted during the campaign and was initially focused on TV giant Televisa's alleged bias in favour of the PRI candidate. Protests since the election have focused on claims that Peña Nieto's victory was "imposed" rather than suggesting that López Obrador was the true winner.
Announcing the legal challenge on Thursday, López Obrador said the PRI had activated a massive vote-buying operation in poverty-stricken areas after the student movement had begun to dent Peña Nieto's initial lead.
He claimed the operation, overseen by party governors around the country, had secured around 5m votes for Peña Nieto with the help of illicit funds channelled into the distribution of vote-conditioned cash, along with handouts of food, construction materials, fertilisers and pre-paid supermarket cards.
López Obrador's case also claimed Peña Nieto's campaign broke election finance limits on publicity and events, and alleges opinion polls that wildly overestimated the margin of his victory were actually "propaganda weapons" used to create a sensation that his victory was unstoppable.
The Federal Electoral Tribunal has until 6 September to resolve all formal complaints, with most observers expecting it to ratify Peña Nieto's win in large part because, while smaller than many expected, his margin of victory of 3.3m votes is still substantial.
To hold any weight in the tribunal, allegations of vote-buying must be supported not only by evidence of gifts given, but also proof of pressure applied to ensure these resulted in votes. Evidence of media bias is even harder to link directly to quantities of ballots cast. Mexican law punishes campaign overspending with fines alone.
Mexico's Election: A Vote for Peace, a Plan for War
Tom Hayden. The Nation. July 11, 2012
As I write this account, the election winner has not been certified. Serious irregularities in voting are being challenged. Over half of all ballots are being recounted by federal officials. Yet it is certain that the conservative party (Partido Accion Nacional) was massively rejected after a decade of rule. It also seems certain that the winner is Enrique Peña Nieto of the traditional PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institutional), commonly criticized as the “dinosaurs” in Mexico’s political culture. Peña Nieto’s mandate, however, rests on a mediocre 38 percent showing. Manuel López Obrador, twice the candidate of the left-populist PRD (Partido Revoiutionario Democratica) won 32 percent in an election he says was fraudulent.
Assuming the outcome is sustained, the election proved that dinosaurs are not extinct in Mexico’s politics. The PRI, which governed Mexico from the revolution until 2000, is a patronage-based coalition with support from traditional sectors. The new president, Peña Nieto is the most mediagenic of dinosaurs, and married to Angélica Rivera, a glamorous soap opera star on Televisa, the media giant that covered the story as a Mexican Camelot. The decisive vote margin was achieved by a cosmetic makeover of the dinosaur, to rephrase Sarah Palin’s 2008 rhetoric about lipstick on pigs.
This was far more than a personality contest, however. As the New York Times clearly noted a week before the election, the outcome would be a voter mandate to end the drug war that has claimed over 60,000 lives since the outgoing president, Felipe Calderón, sent the state’s armed forces against his own people in 2007. The dilemma for the US and Mexican military establishments was how to continue, even intensify, their drug war in spite of public rejection. Could they circumvent public opinion and continue business-as-usual? The handsome, smiling Peña Nieto was their man. His image was that of a modern man from the fashion covers, not an oligarch in shades. López Obrador had to be stopped at all costs. In 2006, his opposition to NAFTA provoked American and Mexican corporations to spend millions on scary television ads describing him as another Castro, Chávez and Lula rolled into one. They barely defeated him, by less than 1 percent, in an election process in which the vote count was terminated arbitrarily with thousands of ballots uncounted. In response, López Obrador’s followers protested, shutting down access to Mexico City for several weeks.
This time, López Obrador went to great lengths to erase the image of a Mexican Chávez. He and the PRD made a radiant sunflower the image of their campaign, and he promised a new violence-reduction policy based on “abrazos, no balazos.” The English-language media translated “abrazos” to mean “hugs,” as if López Obrador was reinventing himself an elderly flower child. But López Obrador said on many occasions he was calling for economic aid from the United States instead of attack helicopters. He remained a dire threat to both NAFTA and the drug war, at least in the eyes of the corporate and military elites.
Complicating matters further, the Mexican Right also was soured on the drug war that they had so much to do with launching. For example, the former PAN president, Vicente Fox, who governed from 2000 to 2006, denounced the drug war as useless and a fraud only weeks before the July 1 election. This meant that any consensus in support of continuing the drug war was shredded even before the election. So how to overcome the democratic result and soldier on? It was clear before the election that US officials had a secret agreement with Peña Nieto to continue the military policy, though attempting to lessen civilian casualties. Three weeks before the election, one confident United States official told the New York Times that, from backroom discussions, “what we basically get is that [Peña Nieto] fully appreciates and understands that when/if he wins, he is going to keep working with us.“ It was a classic assertion of continued US dominance over the political process in Mexico, exercised from the shadows. Peña Nieto demonstrated his subservience by quiet trips to Washington, where he reassured Congressional leaders there would be no deals or truces with the cartels.
The escalation was confirmed further when Peña Nieto, on the eve of the election, made an extraordinary announcement that he would appoint a retired foreign military leader, Colombia’s Gen. Oscar Naranjo, as top adviser to Mexico’s drug war approach. Gen. Naranjo is famous for implementing Colombia’s military strategy of killing leaders of the Medellín and Cali cocaine cartels in a dirty war that involved ultra-right paramilitaries along with US ground troops, advisers and special forces. The appointment of Naranjo confirmed the 2010 prediction of former US drug czar Robert Bonner that Mexico would be the next Colombia, the scene of the next war against the cartels (which in many cases had shifted their operations out of Colombia to Mexico and Central America). Writing in Foreign Affairs, Bonner warned that otherwise Mexico would become an intolerably dangerous narco-state on the US border. Bonner also wrote blithely that Mexico’s “increase in the number of drug-related homicides, although unfortunate, is a sign of progress.”
Sure enough, two days after the election, Peña Nieto published a New York Times op-ed that vaguely promising to “re-examine” the drug war, but specifically promised to create a 40,000-member “gendarmerie” like Colombia’s and expand Mexico’s federal police by at least 35,000 officers. Unnamed “analysts” predicted a “surge” like that in Iraq in 2007, then led by Gen. David Petraeus, now CIA director.
The public can expect sensational headlines if Mexico captures or kills one or more “kingpins” in the new phase, on the model of killing Pablo Escobar in Colombia or Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideaway. While the kingpin strategy reaps media and political benefits, it is far from clear that stability or democratic reforms are the results. The kingpin strategy typically results in even greater violence as new actors do battle in a brutal turf competition. While homicides in Colombia did fall by a slender 2 percent last year, there was a 25 percent jump in the number of kidnapping and massacre victims, and the defense minister was forced to resign. The killing of Colombian labor and human rights leaders continues, and according to Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern, there is a “consolidation of paramilitary and criminal networks in many parts of the country.”
If he intends to continue the drug war without a democratic mandate, Peña Nieto will have to face down powerful and newly energized opposition at home, where there is increased resistance not only to the violence but also the neoliberal economic policies that leave millions of unemployed young people ripe for cartel recruitment. This year brought increased public anger against the Mexican media duopoly of Televisa and Azteca. First, there are the one-third of Mexican voters who supported López Obrador, denied Peña Nieto a majority in parliament and maintained their popular majority in Mexico City. These are loyal voters who know that politics matters. As a result of PRD leadership, Mexico City is a viable municipality within what many believe is a failed state. Mexico City has a great public university, cultural treasures, a working transit system, subsidized healthcare, abortion services and permits same-sex marriage. There is no public threat from the cartels, the airport shootout being an exception to the norm.
The PRD, which broke from the PRI more than a decade ago, believes with significant evidence that it has been robbed of the presidency twice since 1988, first, when its presidential candidate Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas was denied by egregious computer-driven fraud, and second, when López Obrador lost by 0.58 percent in 2006. Otherwise, Mexico would have joined the new populist left that took power through elections in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Uruguay, Honduras and Paraguay (the latter two countries, along with Haiti, have suffered coups since the progressive victories). Instead of moving left, Mexico moved towards neoliberalism, resulting in greater inequality, unemployment, poverty and dependency on El Norte.
Besides the thriving PRD base, Peña Nieto faces additional challenges from a new student movement composed of tomorrow’s likely leaders, known as #YoSoy132 (#IAm132). The hashtag comes from an incident during the presidential campaign when many students disrupted a speech by Peña Nieto, reminding him of the brutal repression he inflicted in 2006 as governor of Mexico State, against hundreds of people in the town of San Salvador Atenco. In response to the protest, Peña Nieto and the PRI accused the students of being agitators paid by the PRD and AMLO. In rage, 131 students quickly posted a YouTube video showing their official student ID cards and denied they were paid by anyone. Thousands more then adopted the hashtag #YoSoy132, and began a succession of marches and vigils up through election day.
In this spring protest, the students turned their wrath against the Mexican media monopolies as well, and even forced a publicly televised debate with two of the presidential candidates. Peña Nieto refused to participate, and the debate went forward, a direct result of the student’s action. The students also had some effect on the electoral outcome, since most of them voted for López Obrador while staying independent and beyond the limits of campaign politics. I met several of them in Mexico City, and they left the clear impression that their new spirit will not fade away. They engaged in animated debates over whether their demands for political and media reform went far enough, with several telling me they aspired to be more like the Dream Act students in the US who risked deportation to force Barack Obama to recognize their demands.
In 1968, hundreds of similar students protesting in the center of Mexico City were shot, killed or “disappeared” by the security forces, their bodies taken away and their stories covered up. That era of state repression led to guerrilla insurgencies in several parts of Mexico, including the Zapatista uprising in 1994, which was led in part by former students who immersed themselves within indigenous communities in Chiapas state. The new generation of #YoSoy132 shares the legacy of 1968, but it completely different in basic ways. Instead of facing a military dictatorship posing as a democracy, they see themselves living under a de facto media dictatorship that defines a delusional reality for a majority of Mexicans. Instead of bullets aimed at their backs, they face media images targeting their minds. Instead of the face of fascism, they have a televised celebrity presidency. It’s therefore logical that the new insurgency is based on Facebook and Twitter, de facto guerrilla tools for breaking a media monopoly.
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Mexican Congress Demands President Enact Victims’ Rights Law
EFE. July 12, 2012
MEXICO CITY – Mexico’s Congress is demanding that President Felipe Calderon sign into law a bill requiring the federal government to protect and pay compensation to victims of organized crime and rights abuses by authorities, the legislature said in a statement.
The Permanent Committee, which assumes legislative duties when Congress is in recess, said the executive branch issued its objections to the bill after the allotted time for such observations had passed.
It therefore voted to return the legislation to Calderon’s desk for his signature.
The bill, which received final legislative approval in April, would create a national registry to keep track of crimes such as kidnappings and forced disappearances and provide compensation of up to $70,000 per claim to victims or their relatives.
Some members of the governing National Action Party, or PAN, argued during Wednesday’s legislative session that Calderon made valid observations but in the end joined in the unanimous passage of the resolution.
“The fundamental issue is that we legislated to protect the victims and if there were errors attributable to the legislative (branch), the executive (branch), whomever, those mistakes cannot harm those the bill seeks to benefit – who are the victims. If this bill is imperfect, as many are, it can always be improved,” PAN Sen. Teresa Ortuño said.
For his part, poet turned peace activist Javier Sicilia, one of the bill’s main proponents, said his Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity, or MPJD, had lost nearly all faith in the president and hopes the fate of the Victims’ Law is not decided by the Supreme Court.
In an interview with a local television station, Sicilia said he expects the president “to keep his word and stop stalling (the Victims’ Law), to enact it and then we’d be glad to sit down and look at the observations.”
Sicilia blasted Calderon last week for going back on his word and effectively “vetoing” the bill by returning it to Congress with objections on July 1, weeks after a deadline passed for making those observations.
Emilio Alvarez, an MPJD member, said last week the administration should not have waited until nearly 8:30 p.m. on July 1 – after the polls closed in Mexico’s general elections – to return the bill to lawmakers.
“Calderon didn’t want to veto the bill within the scope of the election process” to avoid harming his National Action Party’s interests so he opted for an illegal procedure that left the legislation in limbo for 20 days, Alvarez said then.
Among other observations, Calderon proposed a constitutional change to assert that the responsibility of protecting and compensating victims should fall not only to the federal government but also state and local governments as well.
The lower house gave final legislative approval for the bill on April 30 and it was initially sent to Calderon in early May.
Since the conservative Calderon took office on Dec. 1, 2006, as many as 60,000 people have lost their lives in turf battles among drug cartels and clashes between the gangs and the security forces.
But despite the high murder toll Calderon has consistently defended his government’s decision to militarize the struggle against the mobs.
Sicilia, who formed his movement after his son was murdered last year by suspected drug-gang members, is demanding an end to Calderon’s strategy of deploying tens of thousands of army soldiers and federal police to drug-war flashpoints, saying it has only made the country less safe.
The candidate of Calderon’s National Action Party, or PAN, Josefina Vazquez Mota, finished well behind winner Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in the presidential balloting.
Peña Nieto’s victory has been attributed in part to voter frustration over persistently high levels of drug-related violence during the tenure of Calderon, who was constitutionally barred from seeking re-election.
In addition to Sicilia’s movement and other civic organizations in Mexico, international human rights groups also have slammed the military deployment.
New York-based Human Rights Watch, for example, said in a report last year that Calderon’s war on drugs has led to a “dramatic increase in killings, torture, and other appalling abuses by security forces, which only make the climate of lawlessness and fear worse in many parts of the country.”
It also raised serious doubts about Calderon’s claims that criminals account for “90 percent of the victims of drug-related deaths.” EFE
Botched DEA Raid Exposes How Militarization Terrorizes Communities Around the World
Sandra Cuffe and Karen Spring. AlterNet. July 12, 2012
A boat riddled with bullet impact marks sits docked at a landing along the bank of the Patuca River. A few feet from the boat, a small building on stilts has become a de facto temporary military outpost. Armed forces patrol the small community of Paptalaya, in the municipality of Ahuas, the heart of the Honduran Moskitia.
The boat is evidence from an anti-narcotics operation on May 11 involving the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Honduran police and private military contractors. Four indigenous Miskitu residents were killed in the operation. Despite a regional outcry from local indigenous communities and organizations, the region rich in natural resources continues to be heavily militarized. The May 11 raid brought the impacts of the drug war on local communities in Honduras into the global spotlight.
The presence of Honduran and US security forces has dramatically increased over the past several years and even more so since the June 2009 coup, particularly in communities along the Patuca River where recent DEA-led operations have occurred. The militarization of the region is being attributed to fighting drug smuggling, but local residents do not trust the authorities that justify the strong security presence in the name of the “war on drugs.”
“More than anything else, they’re militarizing because of the natural resources that are in the Moskitia, especially the strategic spots where there is oil,” says Norvin Goff Salinas, president of MASTA, an indigenous Miskitu federation.
Regardless of its purpose, indigenous residents have denounced the increasing militarization and its negative impacts on local communities in the department of Gracias a Dios, in the Moskitia.
“The effects are negative,” says Goff Salinas. “It has affected us, like the intimidation of the communities and the effects of the presence of armed forces and the transportation they use, the panic specifically in children and elders.”
Back in the Honduran capital, the embassy’s DEA attaché, James Kenney, told a North American human rights delegation a different story. He spoke with delegation participants on May 27, at a meeting coordinated by the embassy of the United States in Tegucigalpa. US embassy political counselor Silvia Eiriz was also in attendance.
“These people out in Gracias a Dios or other departments, they aren’t doing what they used to do. They aren’t growing corn, and piña or pineapple and other products,” Kenney told the North American human rights delegation. “They are waiting for a narcotics plane or boat to come in.”
“So they are waiting more now for when is the next airplane to come in – ‘When am I going to get another shot at this?’ – and unfortunately it is really destroying these communities out there,” said Kenney, seated in the Marriott hotel coffee shop, where the meeting took place.
MASTA secretary Reymundo Eude points out the conditions of poverty in which the majority of people are living in the Moskitia. Many houses and boats are handmade with local natural resources. People would live differently if they all had money because of drug trafficking, he told the North American delegation.
“If you look at the Landín, ask people there if they asked [the armed forces] to come. Who asked them, the military personnel, to come here?” asked Eude.
“They come by force. They invent, saying there is drug trafficking [in the Miskitu communities],” he said, asking the group to take a look around at the poverty in local communities in the Moskitia. “You can see how people are living. If there were drug trafficking, we would not be in these conditions. Ok. So this is a ploy on the part of the government just to get the funding.”
Before their identities were verified, those killed in the May 11 raid were immediately branded as criminal drug traffickers by Honduran authorities and Honduran and US media outlets and the operation was deemed a success. But indigenous witnesses and survivors shared testimonies of indiscriminate violence, terror and the loss of community members who were in no way linked to drug trafficking. They highlighted the fact that two of the dead were pregnant women.
US authorities claim that at approximately 2:30am on May 11, people on a boat on the Patuca River fired upon anti-narcotic operation agents who were also on the river at the time. The agents, in the process of pursuing and seizing a boat loaded with cocaine, returned fire. Helicopters monitoring the situation from the air fired as well. But local residents claim that a passenger boat carrying 16 people -- men, women and children -- had almost ended its 6-7 hour journey from a community downriver when helicopters suddenly appeared above them and opened fire on the boat. The surviving occupants of the passenger boat say they had no interaction with anyone, drug traffickers or security forces, prior to hearing and seeing the helicopters that opened fire on them.
In response to questions at a press briefing, the US State Department said that Honduran police, the DEA, the Guatemalan military and private contractors were all involved in the May 11 operation and that the helicopters involved were titled to the State Department itself. But the US government was quick to declare that Honduran forces were the only ones to fire weapons and that the DEA was only present in an advisory role.
On Friday, June 22, during another anti-narcotics operation, a US DEA agent shot and killed a man and arrested at least four suspects in Brus Laguna, another community in the Honduran Moskitia approximately three hours down the Patuca River from Ahuas. According to the DEA, the suspect reached for a holstered weapon before the DEA agent shot and killed him. Although there have been deaths in other DEA activities in Honduras, such as May 11, according to the US government, the June 22 incident is the first time that a DEA agent has been the one to shoot and kill someone during an operation.
Still less than two months since the massacre in Ahuas, DEA spokeswoman Dawn Dearden confirmed that two US DEA agents were involved in another fatal shooting. Honduran officials initially reported that one of the two pilots of a suspected drug flight from Colombia died and the other was injured after the twin-engine plane crashed on July 3 in Olancho, in eastern Honduras, after its pursuit by government aircraft. However, in a July 8 interview with the AP, Dearden said that when an operation involving Honduran police and DEA advisers arrived at the scene of the crash, one of the pilots refused to surrender and made an unspecified "threatening gesture." Two DEA agents shot and killed the man.
More than a month before the second operation made headlines in the US, indigenous people in the Moskitia had already demanded the departure of US security and military personnel, in response to the May 11 killing. Representatives from the Territorial Councils of MASTA held an emergency assembly in Brus Laguna on May 14.
“We resolve to declare members of the Honduran and US armed forces persona non grata in the territory of the Moskitia due to their invasion and effect on security, creating situations of intimidation and fear in the humble residents who survive through their own efforts, and without fulfilling their commitment to defend our sovereignty,” reads the declaration written at the emergency assembly. It was addressed to Honduran authorities, as well as United Nations Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples James Anaya.
“We consider the Honduran and United States armed forces to be the only ones responsible for this incident,” continues the Declaration. “As the Territorial Council, we demand a rapid departure of armed North Americans from our communities.”
As concerns arose in the US regarding DEA operations in Honduras following the May 11 incident, a surveillance video allegedly filmed by a US Customs and Border Protection Service aircraft that night began circulating among government agencies and was shown to congressional staff. The families and legal representatives of the victims have not seen the video, nor have they been notified by US or Honduran authorities that a video of the incident exists.
The New York Times viewed the footage and reported that the video raises more questions about the operation and the different versions of the incident that have emerged from US and Honduran authorities, local residents, including those wounded, and bystanders. The video allegedly shows one boat ramming another, after the anti-narcotics team had fired on drug smugglers and intercepted their boat loaded with cocaine.
“In the seconds before contact, there were some flashes in the video, which American officials said were indications that the occupants of the larger boat had fired. After the ramming, a brief but ferocious flurry of shots from the boat carrying the agents was clearly visible,” Thom Shanker and Charlie Savage wrote in a June 22 New York Times article. “As the larger boat slid alongside and then moved away, there also appeared to be a spray of bullets across its middle, said by officials to be a volley of machine-gun fire from the Honduran door gunner aboard one of the helicopters.”
“Still, the video does not resolve the identities or motive of those aboard the boat that collided with the vessel carrying the agents, and who may have fired upon them,” wrote Shanker and Savage.
The controversy about US involvement in anti-narcotics operations in Honduras, resurfacing in the press in the wake of the video footage, also highlights the lack of clarity about the nationality and role of the various armed uniformed agents. While the State Department was quick to assert that only Hondurans fired weapons, the Honduran police agents involved are all part of a special tactical team and each individual agent has been vetted by the DEA. Some agents involved in the May 11 operation are part of a Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team (FAST), but unanswered questions remain about the role of private military contractors and other foreign agents, the organizational structure of cooperation between forces and the chain of command.
At the May 27 meeting in Tegucigalpa, Kenney told North American delegation participants about the actions of “his guys” -- the vetted Honduran special police agents -- that night.
"They don’t have a chain of command like most units. They don’t have a lieutenant, captain, major. They report directly to me – the DEA,” said Kenney. He added that the Honduran agents technically report to the Honduran General Director of Police, but that information does not really get passed on to the supervising Honduran authorities. “They basically work for the DEA."
When delegation participants asked him about the details of US agents involved in the May 11 operation and whether some agents involved in the Moskitia had been previously deployed in Afghanistan, Kenney was less candid. There are three DEA agents in Honduras, and two more are expected soon, he said. But there are currently also “temporary duty” agents in Honduras, he said.
“The only thing that you need to know is that they are DEA agents. Some are part of the FAST. And FAST just happens to be guys that are trained on a unit that can deploy to different areas,” said Kenney.
“So yes, they were in Afghanistan, but this doesn’t matter,” he said. “It’s not an issue where they were. They aren’t military.”
But the US military also has a longstanding presence in the country. In central Honduras, near the city of Comayagua, the US Southern Command’s Joint Task Force Bravo is based out of the Soto Cano joint US-Honduran military base, more commonly referred to as Palmerola. In the 1980s, the country was a strategic staging point for US counterinsurgency activities in the region, particularly in neighboring El Salvador and Nicaragua.
The Moskitia and other areas in eastern Honduras were strategic launching points for US-sponsored efforts to prevent broad support for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and for the subsequent destabilization efforts and armed counterinsurgency incursions – the Contra war – after the victory of the Sandinista revolution in 1979. Today, northeastern Honduras is once again a US staging ground, with three US military forward-operating locations used ostensibly for the US-sponsored drug war in the region.
Sometimes called “the Amazon of Central America,” the Moskitia is a geographically isolated area covered largely by tropical rainforest and connected by networks of rivers and lagoons. It spans northeastern Honduras and northeastern Nicaragua. Home to indigenous Miskitu, Tawakha, Pech and Garifuna communities as well as non-indigenous residents, most of the Honduran Moskitia can only be accessed by air and boat.
The Patuca River that connects the communities where both recent DEA-related killings occurred is one of the main “highways” in the Moskitia. For decades, indigenous and non-indigenous communities both upriver and downstream and environmental organizations have struggled against plans to build large hydroelectric dams on the river. A series of transnational corporations have obtained concessions over the years for the Patuca I, II and III dams, but construction only began to move forward in recent years.
The only road-based highway in the region connects the community of Mocorón – home to historical and current US military presence in the region – to Puerto Lempira, the largest city in the Moskitia. Mocorón is reportedly the host of one of three US forward-operating locations in Honduras that directly support US operations in the country and beyond, together with Puerto Castillo on the Caribbean coast and former Contra War base El Aguacate in Olancho. These and other US military sites in the area are equipped to support actions like the FAST-assisted DEA anti-narcotics operation in Ahuas.
From the beginning, the survivors of the May 11 raid and local community residents who were bystanders when the boats and helicopters arrived have told a different story than US authorities including the DEA, the State Department and the US Embassy in Tegucigalpa. Their testimonies have remained largely unheard.
Timoteo Cruz Ulloa* and his sister were called to the boat landing on the bank of the Patuca River in the wee hours of the morning, receiving word that their mother had been wounded and was in the river. When they arrived at a neighbor’s house at the landing, a helicopter was flying overhead. After it landed, Cruz Ulloa addressed the uniform personnel that disembarked.
“We asked them if we could speak with them and they said yes. Some of them could speak a little Spanish, not much,” he said. “They told me to sit on the stairs of the house. They were pointing a gun at us. From there, shortly afterwards one of them called me over to them. When I went, one of them put a gun to my chest and asked me if there was gasoline for a boat.”
According to Cruz Ulloa, the armed uniformed men violently broke into a storage shed, held the owner at gun point, and took two 18-gallon barrels of gasoline to fuel a boat that was tied up along the river. Several community residents described the men as tall and white, with very limited Spanish proficiency. Amongst themselves, they spoke English. The men turned to Cruz Ulloa and told him, at gunpoint, to take them in the boat, navigating down the river a few hundred yards around a bend.
“They took me by force in the boat, myself and three other North Americans. They took me to where the drugs were. They forced me to drive the boat to bring the drugs. When we arrived, there were two North Americans in the boat where the drugs were,” said Cruz Ulloa. “Afterwards, they put the drugs on the boat and brought the drugs to the landing.”
Cruz Ulloa and many others were not able to assist their loved ones for over three hours while they were held at gunpoint by the security forces participating in the operation.
On May 11, Lucio Adan Nelson Queen, 22, was a passenger in a pipante, the traditional dugout canoe-style boat of the Miskitu and a principal means of transportation in the region. He was injured that night, with a gunshot wound to the back. The bullet exited his body below his right arm. He spoke with the North American human rights delegation while recovering in a hospital bed in La Ceiba, a hub city on the Caribbean coast.
“I was traveling to my girlfriend’s house when this occurred. It was nighttime. They shot me from above, from a helicopter. I was sleeping in the pipante,” Nelson Queen said. “When I woke up, they were shooting. The helicopter was low overhead. I threw myself into the water.”
Hilda Lezama was also a passenger in the pipante carrying local Moskitia residents from points further down the Patuca River to Ahuas. She received gunshot wounds to both of her legs, with the gunfire leaving a deep groove across her thighs. She spoke to the delegation from her hospital bed in Ahuas, where she lives.
“We were traveling with more than thirteen people plus cargo plus a table, chairs, loads of things. The pipante was full,” said Lezama. “Then when we were coming close to the landing we saw helicopters that were hovering, hovering, hovering, hovering. I thought – well, I didn’t know what they were looking for at the time.”
“I heard shots. I do not know how but I threw myself into the water when the bullet hit me. I wanted to hide under the cargo but I couldn’t when they shot me. I had to get into the water, close to the banks of the river. I could not swim. I don’t know how I did, but I did in that moment. I got to a patch of grass at the side of the river and grabbed onto it, a tree branch. Everyone was in the river, including the injured,” she said.
When people helped her out of the water, Lezama was only partially conscious. After emergency treatment in the hospital in Ahuas, she was sent to the hospital in La Ceiba. She was recovering in Ahuas when the delegation visited the region.
Fourteen-year-old Hasked Brooks Wood; 21-year-old father of two Emerson Martinez Henriquez; 28-year-old pregnant mother of two Juana Jackson Ambrocio; and 48-year-old pregnant mother of six Candelaria Pratt died as a result of their gunshot wounds. All four were indigenous Miskitu residents of communities in the region.
The local residents who were wounded on May 11 had just begun to recover and families of the victims were mourning the loved ones they lost when militarization continued to increase in the Moskitia. Weeks before the second DEA killing in Brus Laguna on June 22, residents reported the arrival of English-speaking uniformed personnel armed with high-caliber weapons, including snipers stationed at a strategic point in the community of Brus Lagua. Community members have said that the snipers in a tower point their weapons down at residents as they walk by on the dirt roads.
Out in the remote Moskitia, the night navigation lights from the new US military base installed in the Caratasca Lagoon reflect off the water and can be seen from the shore of Puerto Lempira, roughly 20 minutes away by boat. But regarding questions of foreign involvement in anti-narcotic operations in Honduras and the motives behind the increasing militarization of the Moskitia, the truth remains in the dark.
*This individual’s name has been changed for safety reasons because it has not appeared in press or other written reports. Authorities registered everyone present at the landing after the May 11 incident, noting their names.
Sandra Cuffe is a journalist based in Vancouver. She previously lived in Honduras for five years, working as a human rights activist and journalist. Karen Spring is a human rights activist based in Honduras. She led the North American human rights delegation that visited the Moskitia after the May 11 raid.
Three Peasants Slain in Honduras Land Dispute
EFE. July 12, 2012
TEGUCIGALPA – Three farmers have been slain since July 2 in Aguan, a region on Honduras’ Caribbean coast torn by conflict between peasants and wealthy landowners, a human rights organization said Thursday.
The Permanent Human Rights Observatory of Aguan blamed security forces for the killings and demanded the withdrawal of the army from the area, which lies in Colon province.
The body of one victim was found on a palm-oil plantation “in possession” of magnate Miguel Facusse, the observatory’s Heriberto Aleman said at a press conference in Tegucigalpa.
An accord signed more than a year ago by the Honduran government, plantation owners and an organization representing the peasants called for more than 4,000 hectares (9,876 acres) of land to be distributed among landless families in Aguan.
The agreement has yet to be implemented and around 60 people have died in Colon during the last four years in the conflict pitting peasants against private security guards employed by palm-oil barons, according to the National Human Rights Commission.
Most of those killed have been peasants.
The fighting continues despite a Feb. 17 pact among the government, landowners and peasants meant to resolve the issue once and for all.
The dispatch of extra police and troops to Colon last October also had little impact on the level of violence, and the Human Rights Observatory accuses the security forces of siding with the landowners. EFE
In pursuit of happiness, Costa Rica finds a niche
TIM JOHNSON. McClatchy. July 12, 2012
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — An advertisement that greets passengers at the international airport here says, "Welcome to the happiest country of the world." Inflated claim? Maybe, but a study indeed ranks Central America's verdant nation of Costa Rica as the planet's most content.
Its citizens generally live to old age, watched over by a government that spends heavily on schools and health care and strives to build an economy with a small environmental footprint.
Last month, Costa Rica beat out the United States and Western European nations for the second time to top a survey of 151 countries on a measure of progress and well-being, one that ignores the usual economic indicator - the gross domestic product, or the total amount of goods and services produced in a country. It ranked first in the Happy Planet Index put out by the New Economics Foundation, a British research center that promotes global well-being and sustainable development.
Some Costa Ricans downplayed or mocked the "happiest country" label even as a tourism campaign called the "Gift of Happiness" unfolded to attract new visitors from abroad. President Laura Chinchilla took the description lightly.
"We Costa Ricans have a strong spirit of self-criticism. We know our limitations, we are aware of our problems and, as free people, do not have a common definition of happiness," Chinchilla recently told a United Nations forum.
Yet the idea of setting aside traditional, purely economic measures of development is provoking increasing global discussion, from a Happiness Initiative by the Seattle City Council to new ways to gauge growth in Europe and Asia. Taking cues from tiny countries such as Costa Rica and Bhutan, a Himalayan kingdom wedged between China and India, some experts seek to include social and environmental progress in measures of development.
The push reaches all the way to the United Nations, which hosted a conference in April titled "Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm."
"Gross national product has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured. Yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress," U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said at the forum's opening.
Europe is taking note. In Britain, the government is experimenting with measuring "national well-being," while the European Commission has a project called "GDP and Beyond."
A Russian-born economist at the private National Bureau of Economic Research, Simon Kuznets, developed the concept of gross domestic product in 1934. The gauge uses the market value of all the goods and services a nation produces over a given period to measure its advancement. The measure had gained global acceptance by the time Kuznets picked up his Nobel Prize in economics in 1971.
But advocates of harmonizing development with environmental protection and social policies say GDP calculates destruction as if it were progress.
"When you pollute and clean up the pollution, GDP goes up. When you cut down the forests, GDP goes up," Ashok Khosla, a Kashmiri who's a Harvard-trained physicist and a leading expert on sustainable development, said in an interview. "GDP is a deeply flawed indicator."
In compiling the Happy Planet Index, the New Economics Foundation said, it weighed three factors. First, it examined life expectancy (Costa Rica, at 79 years, tops the United States, where it's 78.5 years). It then factored in a sense of well-being as measured in surveys that ask people to rate how they feel about their lives overall on a scale of 0 to 10. Costa Rica scored 7.3, 13th highest in the world.
The last factor is environmental footprint, a per capita measure of the amount of land that's required to sustain a nation's consumption patterns.
"This is really a new way to look at success," said Juliet Michaelson, a senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation, although she cautioned that "it absolutely needs to be complemented by a whole range of other measures."
The index doesn't measure democracy or human rights, so Vietnam ranks No. 2 on the list and Venezuela hits No. 9.
But Costa Rica, the most stable and oldest democracy in Latin America, scores well on those measures. By abolishing its army in 1948, it chose to invest in hospitals and schools rather than bullets. Its social security system covers the entire population of 4.6 million. And it's embraced a digital economy as a major Latin American exporter of computer software and producer of microprocessors.
National parks cover nearly 30 percent of its territory. Costa Rica aspires to become carbon neutral by 2021, making it a global pioneer.
"There's an awareness (among Costa Ricans) that there's a lot that's been done right. But there's also an awareness that there's a lot that's been eroding," said George A. Yudice, a University of Miami cultural studies expert who spends part of each year in Costa Rica.
Many Ticos, as Costa Ricans call themselves, dismiss the happiness label.
"People don't believe it. They don't think it's true. There are a lot of problems here," said Roberto Biasetti, a public relations and marketing executive.
An English-language newspaper, The Tico Times, lampooned the happiness index in an editorial: "Luckily for us, we live in the happiest country of them all, Costa Rica, where traffic jams, mind-bending bureaucracy and crime are washed away by tropical forests, fresh air (except in the capital), talking sloths and yoga."
Still, the "Gift of Happiness" ad campaign, sponsored by Costa Rica's tourism institute, has given away about 200 expense-paid trips for travelers to the country to savor some of its many charms: adrenaline-pumping adventure sports, romantic getaways and wildlife-viewing treks.
"It's almost like God's playground, with its two oceans and its 12 distinct biodiversity zones," said Andrew Jones, an executive with 22Squared, an Atlanta ad agency that's handling the campaign.
Costa Rica scores high - but not as high - in another ranking. Columbia University's Earth Institute released a World Happiness Report to the United Nations in April. Taking into account factors such as political freedom, strong social networks and an absence of corruption, that report listed Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands in the top spots. Costa Rica came in 12th, after the United States.
The pioneer in giving supremacy to happiness over material prosperity is a tiny kingdom in the Himalayas. In 1972, Bhutan set as national policy the pursuit of happiness through preserving cultural values, protecting the environment, fair and efficient use of resources and sustainable development.
"Most Bhutanese are proud of the country's development philosophy of Gross National Happiness," Passang Dorji, the president of the Journalists Association of Bhutan, said in an email.
On a scale of material prosperity, Bhutan would rank low. The World Bank says its annual per capita income is only $670.
Despite the material modesty, are Bhutanese happier?
"What I can say is that - maybe it is because of the GNH policy - the Bhutanese people are not as unhappy as people in the region and other parts of the world," Dorji wrote.
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